Sunday, November 10, 2013


Before going into the details of how to best prepare for the writing part of any English proficiency exam, it is necessary to put some widely held misconceptions to rest. First of all, let us remind ourselves of the purpose of such a test: to prove mastery of the language and competence in the use of it. With this in mind, consider, if you will, the following widely held misconceptions:
1.       The First Misconception: the best way to prepare for the writing part of any English proficiency exam is to learn, or better still memorize, transition words, clichés and subject specific vocabulary.
Fact: the above does not prove mastery or competence; it only shows you have memorized these words. It is how the essay holds together as a whole and how everything in the essay, lexically and contentwise, relates to eachother that your tester will be concidering while grading.  Any indication that you have been memorizing will have a decidedly negative effect on the tester. Plus, of course, native speakers don’t use transition words very often; check out the reading tasks on this blog.
  1. The Second Misconception: essays follow stict patterns or formulas in the shape of outlines which are specific to each type of essay and no deviance from these patterns is tolerated. Learning these patterns and sticking to them will, therefore, guarantee success.
Fact: ‘the formulas’ alluded to above are based on American high school education and have been popularized by a slew of writing books worldwide. In fact, there is only one type of essay: the logical one. Another fact is that most essays end up being argumentative in one way or another. The reason for the popularity of these formulas is purely practical: it is far easier to teach students to follow formulas than it is to teach them to develop a rational argument.
The Long and the Short of It: the formulas are fine because they are derived from accepted forms of reasoning but there are many other ways to write as well provided you develop a well reasoned argument. For example, the purpose in an argumentative essay is to defend your own point of view and refute counter arguments; provided you do that, it doesn’t matter how you structure the essay.
3.       The Third Misconception: writing essay after essay, with a topic and a set of points, against the clock will guarantee success.
Fact: all the above method of study will produce is a pile of essays with very similar problems; the resulting progress will be very slow indeed. The reason for this is that the input into the essay will be ideas in the native language which will then be translated.
The Alternative: in order for progress to occur, the students’ knowledge base needs to be increased with plenty of input from the target language. This means in practice that students should first watch video about a topic and take notes, then read about the same topic and take notes and finally put their notes together and write.
The Rule of Thumb: if competence in writing in the target language is the goal, writing should always follow listening, reading or both.  This being the case, it is suggested that you read “How to Prepare for the Listening Part of Any English Proficiency Exam” and “How to Prepare for the Reading Part of Any English Proficiency Exam” for suggestions about writing tasks.
A Writing Task that Will Provide Plenty of Input in the Target Language: you will find a list of writing files in the table of contents to the right of this screen. In each of these you will find writing activities which are based on selected videos and reading material. Once all the notes have been compiled, writing the actual essay will be easy, fun and a great educational experience. Work in this way for a period of time and you will develop true competence and feel no need to resort to measures like formulas and clichés.

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